Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

October 21, 2011

I've already discussed the phenomenon known as coffee shop-stage fright, but I'd like to delve deeper into this issue. When I order a frou-frou drink, it's a treat. I am treating myself for doing good things like pilates + yoga, or for allowing someone to pull in front of me on the highway. And even though I feel that I've earned the right to a calorie-laden caffeinated cup of 16oz bliss, I cringe when asked if I'd like whole milk or skim.

Of course I want whole milk, I just don't want to have to say that I want it.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with blurting out "umm...whole, please". But my inner voice, who sounds a lot like an angry drill-sergeant, yells at me about the logic behind drinking a days worth of calories vs. eating them. (I stand firm in my belief that they're not the same.)

If I say skim, I've sealed myself into the category of 'delusional.' Because with syrup, whipped cream and caramel...does it truly matter anymore? Skim is just a way of making myself sound healthier to the person I'm ordering from. 80% of the time I'll go with skim & wonder why I'm suddenly in a bad mood + drinking something that I didn't really want.

So much over-thinking makes me crave cupcakes. I don't allow the sergeant near my baking.

Even if you're not a fan of pumpkin (I'm not!), I think you shall be smitten with these cupcakes. The pumpkin flavour is there, but it's subtle; just enough to remind you that it's fall and you should be enjoying this kind ambrosial bliss. Plus, they're soft & tender. Nothing is more disappointing than a beautiful cupcake that tastes like cardboard.

As for the frosting, it's savagely scrumptious. If a frou-frou coffee drink wanted to be reincarnated into edible form, it would long to return as this frosting...atop these cupcakes. It's sweet, it's salty, it's buttery and it makes you feel chefy the way only caramel-making can do. You deserve this frosting.

Pumpkin Cupcakes (cupcake recipe adapted from David Leite via smitten kitchen)

Cupcake ingredients
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 Tablespoons (that's 1 stick), of unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar [Note: The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup, which I think would be a tad too sweet.]
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature [Note: The original calls for 1/2 cup of buttermilk...which I didn't have on hand. Both will work.]
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Line cupcake pan(s) with 18-20 liners. [Note: I managed to scrape up 20 cupcakes, but if you can only get 18, no worries. Just be sure to fill any empty muffin tins with water before baking.]

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper. Whisk and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or any bowl large enough to accommodate everything if you're using a hand-held mixer), beat together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on high speed).
Scrape downs the sides of the bowl and, one at a time, add the eggs, beating well after each addition (about 1 minute on medium speed).
Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and yogurt (or buttermilk, if using), beginning and ending with the flour. When using this method of incorporating dry and wet, always start and end with the dry.
Once everything has been combined, beat in the pumpkin on low-medium speed, until the batter is smooth.
Fill each liner to about 3/4 full. Lightly rap the pans on the counter, just to release any air pockets. So as not potentially set your oven on fire, be sure to add a bit of water to any unused tins.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow the cupcakes to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Cool completely before frosting.

Salted Caramel Frosting [Note: If you plan on piping the frosting, you may want to double the recipe. I had about 5 naked cupcakes that required some serious bowl-scraping to frost. This was sad, as it left me with nothing to lick.)

1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (that's a 1/2 stick), of unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 Tablespoons (that's 1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar

Prepare the caramel: Roll up your sleeves and take a deep breath. You can do this!
Have the cream and butter measured out and set aside, but within reach.
In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water. Stir them up a bit, just to combine. Turn the heat to medium-high (or just medium if you're nervous...I still get butterflies when making caramel). Using a wooden spoon, stir just until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and allow the mixture to come to a boil. If one spot appears to be boiling faster than the rest, gently swirl the pan around using the handle. Continue to boil until the mixture turns a deep amber colour (but not too dark). Once the colour begins to change, keep a close eye on it...it can go from amber to black in a matter of seconds.
Once it's a rich shade of amber, remove the pan from the heat and immediately (but carefully) add the cream and butter. The caramel will spit and sputter at you, so try not to look it in the eye. Stir vigorously until smooth..if it seizes up on you, just keep stiring and it should iron itself out. Stir in the sea salt. Set the pan aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand-held will work too), beat the 8 Tablespoons of butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add about 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar and beat on low to combine.
Add the cooled caramel and continue beating until combined.
Slowly add 2 more cups of confectioners' sugar. (Don't add it all at once or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)
If the frosting looks too thin, add another 1/2 of sugar, until it comes to a thicker consistency. If it's still too thin, blame the caramel, and stick the frosting in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.

Spread, pipe, slather the cupcakes as desired! Sprinkle with brown sugar or anything else you can think of!

Makes 18-20 cupcakes


  1. It's funny I am not a fan of pumpkin ..yet I like pumpkin cheesecake..the roll I made..and I am certain..these:)
    I have some pumpkin left..I may try a few of these.
    I cringe at making caramel..Too may mishaps here..I know the frosting must make these over the top..I'll try..

    Oy..I've even made that spun stuff..you did too je pense..

    I have never sprinkled w/ brown sugar..Great idea!

    You should have what you want..:)
    I also like how you always say.. that's one stick..:) How can I forget after 40 yrs almost of baking:) ?I do!Yet I remember my first telephone number..57 yrs ..
    So cute how your wrappers almost match the fabric~

    Bon weekend~

  2. Marvelous! Those cupcakes must taste divine.



  3. I've had a couple of pumpkin disappointments this fall, and I was wondering what I'd do with my last tin of pumpkin You've just answered my question.

  4. I also fear coffee shops. We hardly go, so I don't always remember the "lingo". So when they ask "what size?" I'm all "what do you have?" since I'm not sure if my idea of small is their idea of small, etc. I still like to go, though, when we're out for a walk. :) I just flounder through the order.

    Those cupcakes look so good! I'm craving cake like crazy and I just might have to do something about it.

  5. You make me laugh. When I indulge on a Starbucks frappuccino, I ask for light milk. Who am I kidding? I always say yes to the whipped cream. LOL. So, these cupcakes. I adore pumpkin. I adore caramel. You've married my two favorite lovers together, and I'm so hoping to make these! I finally conquered my fear of making caramel, and it's easy. (David Lebovitz has such a great tutorial). I'm going for the buttermilk, because I always have it on hand! Thank YOU!

  6. @iscribbler, The sizes always confuse me (and I used to be a barista). I found it easier to just speak the language of ounces. :D

  7. Pumpkin cupcakes are one of my favorites! (Oh, who am I kidding? Most cupcake flavors are my favorite.)
    The caramel frosting sounds like an amazing pairing. :)

    I've always had the same milk dilemma. I hadn't actually tried whole milk in a latte until very recently and was stunned at how amazing it was. I don't know how I can go back to skim milk...There is just no going back once you experience bliss.

  8. I've been craving something like this fro a while. Too bad I'm not a very good baker.

  9. I love pumpkin and this icing sounds absolutely amazing! They are beautiful with the tower of icing and the sprinkle of brown sugar. Oh, and whole milk is definitely so much better. I have recently switched to 2%, but even that doesn't measure up.

  10. I made these over the weekend for my daughter's birthday. She is not a fan of chocolate (somehow missed that gene from me), but loves pumpkin. I converted the recipe to gluten free, baked it at high altitude and it was a complete success! Moist and delicious! My only problem was with the caramel sauce - getting sugar to melt at 7000 feet is a tricky venture at best.

  11. Hi Linda,
    Wow, converting a recipe to gluten-free, and at high altitude...that takes courage.

    I'm happy to hear that the cupcakes were a success! Caramel is always a good stand-by for non-chocolate lovers, even when it refuses to melt properly. :-D

  12. I made these for Halloween 2012 and they were amazing!!
    The only thing I did different was use fresh pumpkin as opposed to canned. I really wanted to use the pumpkins we had bought from the Pumpkin Patch. It was a simple extra step, well I prepped the day before. I baked the pumpkin in the oven and then pureed it for a smooth texture.

    I am definitely going to make these again, I'm considering to make them for my son's birthday which is coming up in a couple of weeks.


  13. @Lili, Great idea to use real pumpkin! I'm sure it enhanced that irresistible squashy flavour even more. Thank you for letting me know how they turned out! (I always wonder.) :D

    Happy (early) Birthday to your son!!

  14. Ok I've never made caramel, so forgive me for asking, is it really 1 tablespoon of water to 1 cup of sugar??

  15. Alana: Yes, it is just 1 Tablespoon of water. It's basically just to help the sugar from cooking too fast...some people prefer to not use any water.

    Don't worry about asking! Caramel can be intimidating. Just take your time and practice a bit. :)


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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